Man City Fixture Could Prove If Tottenham Have Real Title Aspirations

Tottenham Hotspur have been extremely impressive this season. They currently lie in second place in the Premier League and recently handed leaders Chelsea a 2-0 defeat.

They are now sitting seven points behind Antonio Conte’s men and also possess the league’s best defensive record.

When you look at their first team you find it hard to find any flaws; the goalkeeper is class, two top fullbacks, a strong consistent backline, hard-working holding players, creative maestros and a fantastic striker!

One possible issue could be depth in their squad.

Some positions like the fullbacks and the midfield have an abundance of talent but you worry if one of the central defenders or hitman Harry Kane gets a long-term injury.

Last weekend, as Spurs swotted away West Brom, the White Hart Lane crowd anxiously watched on as Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen succumbed to what looked like a serious injury.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino said that it looked ‘very bad‘ for Vertonghen. The diagnosis is that the centre-back has suffered from ankle ligament damage. No word yet on when the ‘Lilywhites’ should expect to see the twenty-nine year old back in training and on the pitch.

That means that Pochettino needs to figure out on who should play when they face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side this weekend.

Now we all know that Man City have been humbled quite a few times this term, Everton destroyed them in their last outing and Spurs handed them their first defeat of the season back in early October.

But you should always be wary of a wounded animal, especially when they have sharp teeth (Aguero, Silva and Sterling) like City have.

Plus it should also be noted that Pep’s side have only lost once at the Etihad in the league so far during this campaign and that was against Chelsea.

So even a full strengthen Spurs side would find it hard to come away with all three points in this fixture. But if they want to be serious title contenders then they need to rise to all the challenges.

So who could come in and replace Vertonghen?

Well the obvious choice would be twenty-four year old Kevin Wimmer.

The Austrian has already made four starts this season. Spurs have already shown their intent in keeping him at the club for the remainder of the campaign by turning down offers for the central defender.

Now the issue is that many a Tottenham Hotspur fan are still unsure about Wimmer. Sometimes he looks solid and then he can throw in an inconsistent display. A few were suggesting that loaning the player out could have been beneficial for all parties but that was before the injury to Jan.

You then have teenager Cameron Carter-Vickers.

A lot of people believe the young American has all the credentials to make it big in the game. He’s made three cup appearances for Pochettino’s side this year and always seemed more impressive compared to Wimmer.

But the problem for Carter-Vickers is that he has no Premier League experience. Although his manager is impressed by the defender’s talents:

“I told you that, for me, he will be one of the best centre-backs in England in the future. He has a strong mentality, good quality and all the qualities for playing centre-back.”

The Evening Standard suggests that left-back Ben Davies could be one that could get the nod.

Obviously Mauricio has been playing with a back three recently and Davies would fill in on the lefthand side. The Welshman certainly has top flight experience and played in that role for Wales at Euro 2016, where he impressed.

He’s the type of player who does his thing without much fuss but he does everything to the best of his abilities. Ben is also disciplined and decent with the ball at his feet.

It’s a big week for Pochettino and his Spurs side. They’ve got match winners in Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane but most eyes will be on the defence this Saturday evening.

People all over the land will see who the Tottenham boss trusts and whether they can come in and seamlessly fit into the compact defensive unit or will they make it more fragile?

It’s not a title decider but it could help people decide if Tottenham Hotspur are strong enough to keep the challenge going strong.

Where Are They Now? – Celtic’s 2003 UEFA Cup Final Team

In 2003, Martin O’Neill managed to steer his Celtic team into the UEFA Cup final in Seville. It was an amazing achievement.

On the day they faced a young Jose Mourinho and his FC Porto side. Every Celtic fan and their granny seemed to travel to Andalucía in the hope of seeing their men in Hoops once again triumph in a European competition.

But unfortunately the Glasgow side couldn’t get one over Mourinho as his side were 3-2 victors over the gruelling 120 minutes of play.

But what happened to those Celts that started that famous match?

RAB DOUGLAS

I first noticed Douglas during his first stint at Dundee in the late nineties. There was something about him that screamed bricklayer rather than top flight footballer.

He joined Celtic in 2000 for a fee of around £1m and if I recall he also had interest from Rangers at the time. He quickly became O’Neill’s first choice keeper, although some of his howlers (like the one he let in from Mikel Arteta in an Old Firm clash) had Celtic fans questioning his selection.

Douglas fought off the challenge from Swedish international Magnus Hedman to retain his spot for the UEFA Cup run in 2002-03.

His performance in the game against Porto has split a few Celtic with some blaming him for at least one of the goals conceded. That’s a bit unfair in my opinion.

Never a star performer but he’d always give his all for the cause. Won nineteen caps for Scotland.

Left Celtic for Leicester City in 2005 but failed to really cement his place down there and left on loan four times during his three year stint. Ended up back in Dundee in 2008 and was there until 2013.

He would then spend two years with Forfar Athletic turning out 67 times in the league for the Loons.

In October of last year at the age of forty-four, Rab signed up for Arbroath to act as cover for their goalkeeping position.

Unfortunately for Douglas, he was made bankrupt earlier this week.

DIDIER AGATHE

Born in Reunion, a French Island in the Indian Ocean, Didier Agathe hadn’t even heard of Scotland when he first arrived in Kirkcaldy in 1999 but he settled in well enough scoring a hat trick as a trialist for Raith Rovers.

After a season at Starks Park, Agathe agreed to join Hibs on a two month deal and his performances at Easter Road caught the eye of one Martin O’Neill and he purchased the player for around £35,000.

That happened in the space of year, since he arrived in Scotland. Oh he also starred as a Rangers forward in Robert Duvall’s much maligned film ‘A Shot At Glory’.

Agathe’s pace was blistering and he’d always be seen as a first team regular by O’Neill.

In his debut season the winger would score three times as Celtic marched on to win the treble. His end product was never the best but his pace was always highlighted if defenders got too close to him (hence why Gers left-back Arthur Numan would always play deep against Agathe).

Became a better player when Martin O’Neill decided to go three at the back as it meant he could have freedom on the wing to bomb forward and track back to good effect too. Didier was often a top performer for his side in the European away games as his speed gave his team a useful outlet.

After leaving Celtic Park in 2006, Didier went to Aston Villa to link up again with O’Neill but by this time he was past his prime and he only managed five substitute appearances in the Premier League.

Agathe would go back to his birthplace of Reunion and has started his own football academy.

JOHAN MJALLBY

The central defender had already established himself at AIK and with the Swedish national team before he arrived at Parkhead in late 1998. Made his debut as Celtic crushed Rangers 5-1.

He had previously done well in the midfield for Sweden but really came into his own when O’Neill arrived and was easily the best defender to play on the lefthand side of the back three.

In that era Celtic defenders were meant to be strong and good in the air, Mjallby fitted the bill. He was actually pretty decent with the ball at his feet too. He was nicknamed ‘Dolph’ due to his likeness to Rocky actor Dolph Lungren.

Would spend six years in Glasgow’s east end before joining La Liga side Levante but struggled with his fitness and would retire after a failed stint back at AIK. He represented his country 49 times scoring four goals.

Johan would return to the club as Neil Lennon’s assistant manager and together with his old teammate he helped the club reach Scotland’s summit once again. He would end up at Bolton with Lennon but in February 2016 he became boss of Swedish third tier side Västerås SK, who coincidentally play in green and white hoops!

BOBO BALDE

If memory serves me right, Balde actually didn’t cost Celtic anything as they didn’t have to pay a fee for the big man due to his former side Toulouse hitting financial trouble.

Balde was a rock of a footballer. You know you’ve made it when your fans shout ‘Bobo’s gonna get ye!’ to intimidate opposing forwards.

Signed in 2001, Balde was an ideal defensive signing for O’Neill as he would bully strikers with his strength and combative displays. The centre-back could be trouble in the opposition penalty area as well as creating a wall in his own area.

He certainly played his part in getting the Hoops to Seville playing in all but one of their games in that run. He was sent off against Porto with a silly challenge in injury time and his side failed to cope thereafter.

Would make 160 league appearances for Celtic, scoring ten goals before leaving in 2009. Balde would then have decent spells back in France with Valenciennes and Arles-Avignon. Bobo also represented Guinea 52 times, helping Syli Nationale to qualify for various African Cup of Nations tournaments.

In 2013 he was Guinea’s sports coordinator, where he’d arrange the teams traveling arrangements and the like. Last summer he declared an interest in becoming his nation’s new head coach.

JOOS VALGAEREN

The story goes that Rangers boss Dick Advocaat had a decision to make, should he go for Joos Valgaeren or should he sign Bert Konterman? Well fortunately for Celtic fans he plumped for bomb-scare Bert and Celtic eagerly spent £4m on Joos.

The big Belgian proved to be a very astute signing as he helped Celtic to success in the SPL. He famously scored against Juventus in the Champions League and always looked pretty assured with Mjallby and Balde in Celtic’s backline.

The international defender didn’t have the best of games in Seville, going off injured after failing to clear the ball that lead to a Porto goal.

Towards the end of his time at Parkhead you could tell that injuries had taken a toll. He would quit the game in 2009 after spells at Club Brugge and FC Emmen.

Now when I do these ‘where are they now?’ posts it usually means some digging around to see what certain players are up to, as some just seem to disappear. Joos is one such player. But after countless searches on all available formats, I got a lead on twitter suggesting that he went back to uni to become a qualified surveyor. A search on Linkedin brings up a Joos Valgaeren working for a company called Aquafin in Belgium as a ground acquisition consultant, is that the same man?

ALAN THOMPSON

Alan came to Celtic after failing to live up to his potential at Aston Villa, after impressing at Bolton Wanderers earlier in his career.

The move was just the tonic Thompson needed and he became a vital part in O’Neill’s team. A creative force at set-pieces, he also had a great cross on him and a keen eye for a pass. Almost the complete opposite of right-sided fullback Agathe.

His impressive European performances for Celtic earned him his first and only England cap in 2004. He was the first ever Celtic player to represent the Three Lions whilst still playing at Parkhead.

The midfielder always seemed to relish the big occasions, particularly against Rangers where he scored two winners in Old Firm derbies.

In the road to Seville, he would produce a well thought-out freekick that went under the Liverpool wall and into the net.

In total he’d bag fifty-one goals in all competitions for Celtic.

He would then have short spells at Hartlepool and Leeds before hanging up his boots and taking a coaching role at Newcastle’s academy. He would then join Neil Lennon’s coaching team back at Celtic and it was Thompson that alerted the club of Fraser Forster, who would also represent England while playing for the Hoops.

His relationship with Lennon would turn sour and he was sacked in the summer of 2012. He has since had coaching posts at Birmingham and Blackpool.

His nephew Sean Longstaff has just joined Kilmarnock on loan from Newcastle.

PAUL LAMBERT 

Starred in a Champions League final with Borussia Dortmund years before captaining Celtic in Seville.

Joined the side in 1997 for £2m and helped stop Rangers ten in a row tilt. He scored an absolute cracker against the old foes in the New Year’s derby and then bettered it with a strike against his former side Motherwell a week later.

Lambert was very much a leader on the pitch and his experience was always appreciated during the Martin O’Neill era. Always composed and classy on the ball Lambert would also win 40 caps for Scotland, helping them to their last World Cup appearance in 1998.

Paul would go on to have a managerial career both in Scotland and in England. He started off at Livingston but stepped aside when he believed that the task had become too difficult. At lowly Wycombe Wanderers he watched on as his side reached the English League Cup semi-final.

Lambert would then spend a year at Colchester United before overseeing two consecutive promotions with Norwich City. He then took on the difficult task of managing Aston Villa but struggled due to the club’s lack of finances. He was sacked in February 2015.

Then in November he took-over at Blackburn Rovers and helped keep them in the Championship before activating his release clause.

This season he’s taken up the reigns at Wolves and is trying to steady the ship there.

NEIL LENNON

Lennon followed O’Neill up north after the two enjoyed a very successful time together at Leicester City. His £5.75m deal was concluded in December 2000 after months of toing and froing between the Hoops and the Foxes.

Lennon grew up in Northern Ireland as a Celtic supporter and soon he’d become a hero amongst the Celtic support with his passionate combative style. His heart on the sleeve performances would often rub opposing fans up the wrong way but it endeared him to his own support.

His midfield duties were more on the defensive side and he was all about getting the ball to better creative talents. His arrival really helped Stiliyan Petrov, who was allowed to venture further forward.

A constant voice within the team, Lennon would always lead by example on the pitch and do his duty for his teammates.

Ended his Celtic playing career with eleven trophies including five league titles. Short stays at Nottingham Forest and Wycombe followed before his retirement in 2008.

After retiring from playing, Neil’s first coaching job was back at Celtic working under Gordon Strachan. He was kept on by Tony Mowbray, who he’d replace in early 2010. Initially his appointment was just seen as being a stop gap but the young coach impressed and he got the gig full-time.

He initially struggled to get the better of Gers manager Walter Smith but once Smith had left Ibrox Lennon would oversee his side winning three league championships in a row. Neil would also do well in Europe, guiding his players to a famous Champions League win over the mighty Barcelona and a place in the knock-out stages.

He would resign from the role in 2014 and constantly seemed to suffer from abuse and threats from other team’s fans.

His next job took him to Bolton, where he managed to save them from relegation. But the club’s dreadful finances constantly hampered him and he left the Trotters in March last year, with the club staring relegation in the face.

This summer he tried to return to Celtic Park once again but missed out on the gaffers role to Brendan Rodgers. Lennon was then announced as the new Hibs boss and they currently top the Scottish Championship.

STILIYAN PETROV

Affectionately known as Stan by those that love Celtic, Petrov was actually the best signing from the doomed John Barnes/Kenny Dalglish era.

The Bulgarian international (105 caps/ 8 goals) struggled in Glasgow originally both on and off the pitch. Off the pitch he decided to work in a friend’s burger van in a bid to understand the Glaswegian dialect better. On it, he couldn’t really find his ideal position.

Under O’Neill, Petrov was pushed forward and asked to be more creative as he had Lennon and Lambert playing beside him. He would often perfect his runs into the box and finish off chances. In total he’d bag 65 goals in 312 appearances for the Scottish giants.

Would often be criticised for diving while playing up here but his energetic style was also praised by fellow pros.

In the 2002-03 campaign that involved the UEFA Cup run, Petrov would play 50 times and get fourteen goals to his name.

In 2006 he was reunited with Martin O’Neill after Aston Villa agreed to pay £6.5m for his services. He departed Glasgow with many medals under his arm and a life long mutual love between him and the Celtic fans.

At Villa, Stiliyan would be a regular star performer and he’d also become the club’s captain.

In May 2013 it was announced that Petrov was retiring from football after being diagnosed with having  leukaemia, an illness he’d eventually beat. In September of that year 60,000 fans would turn up at Celtic Park for a charity game in honour of the Bulgarian and many an old face that played with the midfielder returned to help out.

After a brief stint as a coach, Stan tried to resurrect his playing career last summer at Villa but wasn’t offered a contract after training with the first team during preseason.

This week he backed the Hoops to win back to back trebles with Rodgers in charge.

CHRIS SUTTON 

Celtic paid Chelsea £6m to sign Chris Sutton and that remains a record fee paid out by the Glasgow club.

After a successful spell with Blackburn Rovers, helping them win the Premier League title in 1995, Sutton struggled in his one year in London.

O’Neill always liked signing players that had a point to prove and boy did Chris prove his point at Celtic Park.

The ideal big striker, who would be a perfect foil for a goalscoring hitman, he formed a massively successful partnership with Henrik Larsson.

He was terrific in the air and could even fill in as a centre-back if required, he also hd the versatility to play in the heart of midfield. Would often bully defenders and outmuscle them, he was a player that fans either loved or loved to hate.

Infamously accused Dunfermline players of lying down at Ibrox to help the Govan side to secure the league title on the last day. He has never been one to shy away from giving his opinion.

In that run to Seville, he’d score four goals in twelve European outings including a thunderous near post header against his former side Blackburn.

His best scoring season came in 2003-04, where the Englishman scored twenty times as Celtic went on to win the league and cup double.

Left Celtic in early 2006 and spent six unsuccessful months with Birmingham City. Then moved across the city to join Villa and retired due to vision problems suffered during a game against Man United. He would make a surprise cameo appearance for non-league side Wroxham playing alongside his son in 2012.

After a disappointing year managing Lincoln City, Sutton is now a pundit for BT and the BBC. He’s well known for his honest opinions which ruffle a few feathers to say the least.

HENRIK LARSSON

His first meaningful contribution to Scottish football was to give the ball away to Chic Charnley, who would go on to score a winner for Hibs against Larsson’s Celtic team.

Who would have thought that the Swedish international would go on to become the greatest foreign player to ever play for the club?

But that’s exactly what happened as he scored goal after goal. In that debut season he helped the Hoops stop Rangers in their recording breaking ten in a row attempt. That wouldn’t be the last time he’d break the hearts of the bluenoses, in total the hitman would hit the net eleven times against his sides main rivals.

Larsson would break his leg in 1999 and many questioned whether he’d ever be the same, he was in fact better once he returned to full fitness. A lethal predator in and around the penalty area. He possessed good speed, a terrific leap and strength to hold his own.

The forward was just as much of a threat in Europe as he was in domestic competitions. No Celtic player from any era bettered his European tally of 35 goals. During the famous 2002-03 European campaign Larsson scored twelve strikes in his twelve games. That included a fantastic brace in the final against Porto.

Probably the last player of world class ability to play in Scotland. After seven seasons (he’d reject various big moves) Celtic’s magnificent seven ended his tenure at Parkhead playing 313 times and scoring a whopping 242 goals. He also won the prestigious gold boot award while playing for the Hoops.

After Celtic, Larsson joined Spanish cracks Barcelona and he’d help them to a Champions League title in 2006. After two seasons at the Camp Nou, Henrik returned to Sweden to play for his former side Helsingborgs IF. Larsson would join Man United in a short-term loan deal and Sir Alex Ferguson would say that he wished he’d signed him sooner!

He’d end his career in 2013 playing for his first side Högaborgs BK once again.

Has had various managerial jobs in his homeland, most recently with Helsingborgs IF where he managed his son Jordan. He departed in November after failing to keep his side in the Allsvenskan and when his own supporters turned on him and his son.

Not just a legend at Parkhead, he’s also a Swedish legend who won 106 caps and scoring 37 times.

Now what ever happened to Jose Mourinho? 

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Diego Costa Won’t Do A Payet!

Costa banner

Just when everyone was starting to think that Diego Costa had learned to stay away from controversy, the striker decided to show us that he hasn’t changed that much after all!

Conflicting stories will tell you that the Spanish international forward has a back injury or has had his head turned with talk of a move away from Stamford Bridge. But one thing all reports agree on is that Chelsea’s leading marksman has fallen out with boss Antonio Conte.

Costa was then dropped by Conte as Chelsea thumped Premier League champions Leicester City last weekend.

The story has led to many speculating that Diego Costa is doing a Dimitri Payet and is trying to force a move to either China or even back to Spain.

I don’t think the two stories mirror each other if I’m being honest.

At West Ham United Payet has downed tools, stated that he no longer wants to play for the club and wants to return to Olyimpique Marseille.

I get the feeling Payet will be willing to sit a strike out and really push for that move to go through. He’s basically burning all his bridges at the London Stadium in his attempt to leave the Hammers.

At Chelsea, Costa has to remember that the real boss at the club is owner Roman Abrahimovich.

The Russian billionaire won’t be bullied by any footballer. He will demand that Costa gets back on track and forget about a transfer this month. If Costa were to go on strike, Abramovich will be ruthless in his response and let the striker rot. Even Diego’s super-agent Jorge Mendes wouldn’t be able to persuade the Blues owner to act differently from a hard stance.

But there’s also something different in the two player’s personalities.

Beyond anything else, Costa actually wants to play as much football as he can. He’d probably teardown his own house or punch his granny in the face (maybe not) if he was told he couldn’t play for six months. So I just can’t see him throwing all his toys out of the pram, as it could lead to a prolonged stay on the naughty step.

I think that Conte will punish Costa but will be looking at introducing him back into the first team as soon as he possibly can.

Costa has been in sensational form this season and has looked a better striker playing in Conte’s team. He leads the league’s scoring charts with his fourteen goals, he always plays like a passionate warrior up-top and has started to curb his reckless behaviour.

Antonio Conte has to tell Costa that he owes a lot to Chelsea and the club’s fans. He also needs to state that Costa is the man that can fire them to a league title in May.

Then all parties can come together at the end of the season and work out what to do next. It could be the ideal time for a separation.

If I were a betting man, I’d suggest that Diego Costa will stay at Chelsea and lead the line for the rest of this campaign, while sulky Dimitri Payet will force a move out of West Ham!

Pep Needs To Copy Jose At Man City

Josep_Guardiola

On the tenth of September, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City rocked up at rivals Manchester United’s home and the Citizen’s turned Jose Mourinho’s United side over.

The atmosphere in the away end was almost palpable as they bossed possession, created more chances and looked the much superior unit.

Guardiola had once again outclassed long-time foe Jose Mourinho.

Fast forward and today City were humbled 4-0 at Goodison with Everton supporter’s chanting ‘You’re getting sacked in the Morning‘ at Pep.

Now obviously Man City’s board won’t even consider sacking the Spaniard in his debut season at the Etihad, he was brought in with a long-term plan in mind after all.

But it’s understandable that many in sky blue will scratching their heads after yet another poor performance from Pep’s side.

In their last ten Premier League fixtures they’ve lost four times. That recent indifferent run has seen the club fall out of the league’s all important top four places. In the encounters against the current Champions League placed incumbents City have lost three and won just once (at home against Arsenal).

It’s interesting that Pep has failed in his two attempts against Everton and his old Barcelona teammate Ronald Koeman.

The Dutchman clearly sets his teams up to stop Man City from paying their usual game. They allowed Man City plenty of the ball but worked strong defensively to hassle when the ball reaches dangerous positions.

After soaking up much pressure in the first half they battled forward and Romelu Lukaku finished superbly with a first time finish. Sloppy defending helped Everton as they doubled their lead a minute or so into the second period. The Toffees then heaped on more misery as they added another two goals in the last eleven minutes, which gave Guardiola his heaviest league defeat.

It’s clear that City are still soft in the defensive areas and Pep really should consider introducing tackling sessions.

I don’t think anyone at the Etihad is as convinced as Pep is when it comes to new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Against Everton he conceded all four of the shots that hit his target. He’s a goalie that seems to get smaller when a shot is struck or in one-on-one situations.

Really Guardiola has to look at what Mourinho has done recently at Man United and look to copy few things from Jose’s book.

No doubt the very idea would infuriate Señor Guardiola!

After a lacklustre start at Old Trafford this season, Man Utd have turned things around. After today’s game against Liverpool, United have now gone twelve games without defeat.

Jose has finally found a formula and system that gets the best out of his players and they’ve gained the belief to go on and have that fine run. He isn’t just getting the best out of his top stars, he has also managed to get more from his fringe players too.

The Portuguese boss also has a plan b and will go direct if he needs to. If you look at today’s equaliser, Marouane Fellaini’s presence played a big part in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal.

Guardiola is known to be quite a stubborn coach and fully believes in keeping with his tactics and philosophies.

That can’t always work straight away at a club. Yes City started off well but things have declined dramatically and they are now just two points ahead of their neighbours who occupy sixth spot.

People will state that this isn’t really Pep’s team but I disagree with that. I think Guardiola’s plans were already being put into place during the summer of 2015.

Look at how the board backed him in the Joe Hart affair. They went out and bought Bravo for £17m from Barcelona and allowed two time Premier League winner and fan favourite Hart to leave on loan to join Torino.

In the summer of 2016 they spent in excesses of £163m to give Pep a squad capable of challenging for the league crown. But that looks less likely as each game week passes and they now trail Chelsea by ten points.

So I have to say that this is Pep Guardiola’s squad.

Certain players look scared of their own shadows, others are being played out of position and City still need striking options when Sergio Aguero hits a rough patch, gets injured or misses out through suspension.

Money can’t solve all of Guardiola’s problems at Manchester City, he needs to adapt more to his surroundings and find a way of winning the vast majority of games they play in (even if it means being pragmatic or going more direct).

Once he has settled on a winning team and a plan b, then he can perfect his usual style at the Etihad.

West Ham Should Just Sell Ungrateful Dimitri Payet

Payet

No player is bigger than the football club!

West Ham United should know that more than most as they’ve sold some extremely talented stars in the past but have always survived.

Today it has emerged that West Ham’s star of last season Dimitri Payet no longer wants to play for the club.

Hammers boss Slaven Bilic said as much in his most recent press conference:

“We have said we don’t want to sell our best players but Dimitri Payet does not want to play for us,”

Bilic would then add that he had no intention in selling Payet but the maverick forward was refusing to play for the club at this current period.

It’s a tough situation for Bilic and the Hammers board.

They have done everything possible to help the Frenchman settle in at the club. They’ve made him the team’s focal point and he gave them inspirational performances in return. Those performances helped him secure a place in the French Euro 2016 side, where his star status was enhanced.

Major clubs have since been linked with a move for Dimitri and he’s not shied away from commenting about those links.

West Ham quickly rewarded their maestro was a new £120k a week contract last winter but that hasn’t been enough to quell Payet’s desire to depart in this transfer window.

If you look at Payet’s history, you’ll notice that he only stayed at Lille and Marseille (his last two clubs) for two seasons apiece.

When he departs from a club he will come out with an excuse of wanting to play in a better league or play for a bigger team.

It seems to me that his next destination is going to be back at Olympique Marseille. He’ll no doubt state that he wants to return to France for personnel reasons.

Now let’s go back to the deal that took Payet to West Ham in the first place. Marseille released a statement that basically slated the player and his agent.

The first line in the statement said this:

“Olympique de Marseille says it has absolutely no intention of selling Dimitri Payet,”

It also pointed out that it felt that an agreement was in place to keep the playmaker in the south coast of France until his contract ran out which wasn’t until the summer of 2017. They then revealed that Dimitri and his advisors had started to negotiate a deal with West Ham and that they couldn’t match that deal.

In the end Marseille said that they reluctantly sold the player to the London side.

So what has changed at L’OM since that acrimonious departure?

Well they’ve been bought over and are now managed by former Lille boss Rudi Garcia.

Suddenly they’re a fancy new project that has a substantial cash backer and they are looking for a world star to kick-start this new exciting era!

Payet would fit that bill and I can only imagine that he’ll be paid handsomely to go back to the Stade Vélodrome.

Now he’s willing to go on strike to push through a move. Reports suggest that L’OM have already had a £20m rejected for the creative attacker.

For me, if I were West Ham I’d tell Marseille that we will start talking if a £30m offer comes in. If a bid of that figure comes in then I’d accept it on the last week of the transfer window, making sure I had a replacement or two in the door first.

In the meantime I’d fine him as much wages as is allowed and leave him to rot away in whatever country, house or hotel that he wants. There will be no special or emotional farewell, maybe just a line on the clubs website. I certainly wouldn’t peddle anything calling him a hero or thanking him for his contribution in an Irons jersey. He was nothing more than a mercenary and should be treated as such.

Ultimately if a player is willing to down tools and treat the club with no respect whatsoever then he’s not worth having around in the longterm. Especially if that player has a history of forcing moves and throwing his toys out of the pram.

West Ham will probably not get a like for like replacement. It will be hard to lose someone as gifted as Payet in the set-piece department or as flamboyant but look at his contribution this term, he certainly hasn’t been as successful as he was last year.

Better for the Hammers to ditch the sulky one and get players in that will fight for the cause and get the club back on track!

Manchester United v Liverpool Preview, Team News & Predictions

Old_Trafford

Manchester United vs Liverpool
Premier League 2016/17
15th January, 16:00 GMT
Old Trafford, Manchester
Live Stream: Watch Manchester United vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports 1

MANCHESTER UNITED TEAM NEWS & PREVIEW

Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are in a good run of form, having won nine games on the spin. They have not lost since the start of November, hence the form book is clearly in favour of United. Having taken care of their cup duties, Mourinho’s men could dent Liverpool’s hopes of a first title in 27 years with a win at Old Trafford.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United’s top scorer, is expected to be back in contention after missing the FA Cup third round tie against Reading and the League Cup semi-final first leg against Hull City.

Marcos Rojo is an injury doubt, while Eric Bailly is on international duty with Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Predicted Manchester United starting eleven (4-2-3-1): De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Rooney, Ibrahimovic.

LIVERPOOL TEAM NEWS & PREVIEW

Liverpool will head to Old Trafford on the back of a 1-0 loss to Southampton in the League Cup semi-final first leg that has left them winless so far in 2017. Jürgen Klopp’s side are five points off the top of the table, and any points dropped against United could prove costly in their hunt for the title.

Reds captain Jordan Henderson hasn’t played a minute since hobbling off against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve, but he could be back in the line-up for Sunday’s game. Philippe Coutinho made his return from injury against Southampton on Wednesday night. The Brazilian could start at Old Trafford or play a short cameo role.

Sadio Mané is off with Senegal for the Africa Cup of Nations, while Joel Matip remains absent through injury.

Predicted Liverpool starting eleven (4-3-3): Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner, Can, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Lallana, Firmino, Origi.

MANCHESTER UNITED VS LIVERPOOL KEY STATS

This will be the 50th Premier League meeting between Manchester United and Liverpool; United have won 27 of the previous 49 (D9 L13). A Manchester United win despite the team’s relative league positions is worth putting money on, with United on their best winning run since 2009. They are 2.1 to win with Betway at the time of writing, and whether you prefer to back a Liverpool win (3.6) or a United win, you can use this free bet from Betway to give you a head start in the weekend betting.

Wayne Rooney is only one goal away from becoming Manchester United’s all-time top scorer. The England captain is level with Sir Bobby Charlton on 249 goals.

Adam Lallana has been involved in 14 Premier League goals this season (seven goals, seven assists); more than any other English player.

MANCHESTER UNITED VS LIVERPOOL BETTING TIPS

Manchester United are in a great run of form that makes them the favourites for a win. Furthermore, Liverpool’s two league defeats this season have come away from Anfield, hence betting on a United victory makes sense.

Besides, Juan Mata has had a hand in five goals in his last four PL appearances against Liverpool, scoring three and assisting two. If the Spaniard starts, expect him to contribute to a United goal.

MANCHESTER UNITED VS LIVERPOOL PREDICTION

Five points and four places separate United and Liverpool in the table as it stands, but expect the game to be a much closer affair than what the table suggests. Given Mourinho’s penchant for serving up disappointments to Liverpool, a win for the home side is likely.

Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool

Kyle Bartley’s Success Highlights Problems At Swansea City

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It must be extremely frustrating for new Swansea City boss Paul Clement that his most consistent defensive performer this season is a player currently out on loan at Leeds United.

Kyle Bartley has enjoyed his time at Elland Road and along with Pontus Jansson he’s formed one of the Championship’s strongest defensive partnerships.

Kyle is a tall, strong, commanding central defender who can also cover the ground well.

All attributes that Swansea have missed at various parts of the season this term. No Premier League team has conceded more than the Swans this season and they’ve conceded twenty-one goals in six league games in December.

I remember Bartley from his time at Rangers, the defender was raw but certainly had ability. I almost bumped into him at a casino, I’m glad I didn’t as he was huge and would have taken me out.

At Rangers, Kyle learned a lot from playing beside the likes of David Weir and Madjid Bougherra. You could see that the young defender grew in confidence as each game went by.

Unfortunately at Swansea, Bartley has never had a good run of games to establish himself as a Premier League starter.

During his stay in Wales, he’s never managed to play ten or more league games. In 2014-15 he managed seven Premier League appearances and that’s been his best run at the club.

So I don’t blame Swansea for loaning Kyle Bartley out in the summer, he had obviously not impressed then Swans manager Francesco Guidolin.

The Welsh side sold club captain Ashley Williams in August and the defence has looked weak all season.

Federico Fernández has made plenty of mistakes this term. Spaniard Jordi Amat struggles to deal with crosses that head his way and Alfie Mawson is still learning his craft in tough circumstances.

Former Swansea City boss Garry Monk obviously liked what he saw in Kyle and brought him to Elland Road in the summer and is full of praise:

“He is an exceptional centre-back, but the form he’s in right now is the best I have seen from him. In fact, I don’t think he has ever played better.”

“There’s no limit to what Kyle can achieve. He can be as good as he wants to be and go as far as he wants to go.

“His attitude and mentality can’t be faulted – that’s why I made him my captain.”

That’s a ringing endorsement for the big defender and it says a lot that Leeds are doing well in the Championship, sitting in a play-off spot.

Now here’s my problem with the Kyle Bartley situation.

Swansea should have had a recall clause inserted into the loan deal. Six months on and the Swans are struggling and their defence has been pretty poor all term. They are now onto their third manager of the season and he can’t select their best performing central defender because they didn’t insert a simple clause.

Now maybe Swansea will say that the loan deal involved a fee and that Leeds did’t want the clause. But Swansea should have been the ones leading those negotiations and should make sure that they are the ones that are protected the most! Kyle Bartley is their player after all.

Seems slightly ironic that the Swans would hire club legend Alan Curtis as the sides new loan manager to watch and evaluate those Swansea players doing well elsewhere but can’t bring back.

I’m happy that Kyle is getting a run of games and proving himself again. I just feel Swansea have made a mistake in how they’ve done the deal and that could really haunt them in May!

It’s Make Or Break This Month For Celtic’s Gary Mackay-Steven

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Celtic managed to cram nine fixtures into the month of December. So I’m betting the squad will be thankful for their winter break and a chance to train in the Dubai sun.

The Scottish Premiership champions once again top the table and are a whopping nineteen points ahead of their nearest ‘challengers’ (a loose term this season).

But it hasn’t been great for all the players in Brendan Rodgers pool. As the new manager revitalised many within his squad and added some fresh talent into the ranks, others have been on the outside looking in.

None more so than winger Gary Mackay-Steven.

Mackay-Steven joined Celtic in the winter of 2015 along with fellow Dundee United star Stuart Armstrong. But while Armstrong has been superb under Rodgers, Mackay-Steven has been injured and now fit he can’t break back into the starting eleven. In that busy December, Mackay-Steven only received 138 minutes of game time and only once did he start.

During his absence at the start of the campaign, New signing Scott Sinclair has become a sensation to the Parkhead faithful. The former Man City and Swansea man has been a cut above the rest in Scottish football with his runs, creativity and his goals.

Before Rodgers arrived at Celtic Park, James Forrest looked to be a spent force and seemed destined for a move away in order to kickstart his career.

But all that has changed for Forrest, the wingman has had twenty-four outings so far this term. Ten of those appearances came in Celtic’s Champions League tilt. If it’s a big game, then Rodgers is inclined to select James and that tells you that the Celtic gaffer trusts the Scottish international. He’s repaid the faith shown in him with his six goal return. He also signed a three year contract extension earlier in the season.

Then you have the precocious talent that is Patrick Roberts.

The teenager, on loan from Manchester City, has also made more than twenty appearances for the Hoops this year. Roberts is a player that can unlock the tights defences and also has a keen eye for goal. He might only be a Celt until the end of this current campaign but I can’t see Rodgers not playing the gifted star just because of that detail.

So it might seem like an impossible task for Mackay-Steven, when he thinks of ways to get himself starting regularly again for the Glasgow side.

Injuries might help him, but you cannot wait hoping for a teammate to suffer from a bad knock so you can take their place.

Then there’s the Scottish Cup and the fact that Celtic are so far in front in the league that Brendan might rotate more in the second half of the season. But at twenty-five can Mackay-Steven afford to wait and see?

A big bonus for the tricky winger is that it’s Brendan Rodgers that’s in charge at Hoops. He’s a manager known to giving players another chance to impress him and he’ll reward those that get their head down and do well when they are given their opportunities.

Rodgers has praised Gary in the past month:

“Gary Mackay-Steven is really up to speed in terms of his fitness and I am actually looking forward to seeing Gary play.”

If I were Gary Mackay-Steven I’d use January as my make or break month at Parkhead.

Train hard in Dubai and then ask the manager if you figure in his plans. If you get a chance in the three games before the transfer window shuts then that will give you an indication if you have a longterm future at Celtic. If you do get the chances, then you’ve got to take them!

If you’re only used sparingly or worse, not at all, then it really could be time to ask for a move away.

Look at the English Championship or even a foreign league if it’s a permanent deal. If it’s a loan then maybe stay in the Scottish Premiership and that way you can try and prove yourself to your Celtic employers all over again.

At this stage of his career, Mackay-Steven needs to be a first team regular.

Why Dele Alli Should Stay At Spurs

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Like everyone else, I have been extremely impressed with Dele Alli’s performances for Tottenham Hotspur this season.

But I can’t say that I’ve been surprised by his star turns.

I remember in late 2014 hearing former MK Dons boss Karl Robinson discussing his young talent. Robinson enthused about Alli and stated passionately that the sky was the limit for the then League One midfielder.

I had seen bits and pieces of Dele before that interview, but Robinson’s praise and the confidence in his prediction that he was headed for stardom made me inclined to watch more MK Dons highlights and Dele Alli continually stood out.

I was pleased that Tottenham allowed him to stay on at MK Dons for the rest of the 2014-15 season after they signed him on a £5m deal during the 2015 January transfer window. It showed that they wanted to help him flourish as much as possible without too much fuss.

In League One he was a standout player but I wasn’t expecting him to hit the ground running like he did when he arrived in the Premier League in the following summer.

But the young attacking midfielder simply wasn’t phased by the big step up and scored an impressive ten league goals in his debut season. His form was rewarded with a call-up to the England senior set-up and he’d go to France for the 2016 Euros.

This season has seen Dele Alli move up yet another gear. In just nineteen Premier League appearances so far this term, Dele has already equalled his ten goal tally from last season.

In his last five games, the Spurs man has bagged seven strikes and that includes a winning brace over league leaders Chelsea.

On the back of those sublime outings, Dele is seemingly a wanted man.

The English press have linked him with a move to both sides of La Liga’s big two, with a fee of £70m being mentioned.

Some have even suggested that Alli could command around £800k a week if he decided to move to the Chinese Super League.

It must be amazing for a twenty-year old footballer to be one of the most wanted men in football but I hope that Dele Alli decides that the grass isn’t always greener and stays on at Spurs.

Now usually I’m all for young British talent going abroad and broadening their horizons when they are still developing their skills.

But the move has to make sense.

At Tottenham, Alli is already at a big club that are making big strides in the Premier League and he’s a big part of that. They have a young, exciting squad and have a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who will stand by his starlets and let them flourish.

That won’t necessarily happen at Real Madrid or Barcelona. You just have to look at James Rodriguez’s struggles at the Bernabeu to see what could go wrong in Spain.

James was one of the stars of the 2014 World Cup and the Colombian joined Real for a €80m fee on the back of that. Fast forward a two and a half seasons and the twenty-five year old has only made four La Liga starts so far this term.

It can be brutal for players if their face doesn’t fit at sides like Barca or Real.

Now I am not saying that Dele would suffer the same fate as Rodriguez but I just don’t see the hurry to find out.

He’s not the finished product as of yet. He still gets wound up and makes silly decisions during the heat of the battle. The goals are great but an attacking midfielder should also be providing key passes and Alli has only created one assist during this campaign (He was better on that front last term with nine assists).

But that being said you can see why people are comparing him to the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes. If I were Gareth Southgate I’d be building my England side around the energetic middle-man.

I honestly think Alli is better suited staying at White Hart Lane, where he’s buzzing at the moment and where he will be allowed to develop even further.

Then who knows in four or five years time, he might have won some medals with Tottenham and could then look at going abroad.